by Alan Sculley & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & F & lt;/span & or the first time in a decade, Pearl Jam may be looking at the prospect of having a huge hit CD with its new self-titled release.
Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready has basically one thing to say about facing another huge wave of success: Bring it on.
"I would love to have a huge record again and be in the press. It would be fun," McCready said in a phone interview from Toronto, where that night the band opened its North American tour. "If it happens, that would be great. If it doesn't, we'll still go on and tour like we always have. The buzz that's been around it has been pretty exciting. The fact that we've been getting played on the radio again, that's kind of neat. That's all cake. Me personally, I love it."
That certainly wouldn't have been the response from the band members a decade ago, when Pearl Jam was arguably the most popular band in the world, having released three CDs -- Ten, Vs. and Vitalogy -- that sold some 20 million-plus copies combined.
"We blew up and all that was happening, and [singer Eddie Vedder] was getting really uncomfortable and we were all struggling with different issues. He said, 'Hey, we need to chill out and go against everything that a record company would want you to do, or a manager or other band members would want you to do.' I think it made us survive. It kept a sense of normalcy to our lives."
The band members -- Vedder, McCready, guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament (drummer Matt Cameron joined the group later) -- purposely retreated from the public eye. They refused at various points to do videos, any interviews or promotional appearances. The group also chose to experiment with its signature sound, branching out musically beyond the kind of concise, hard-hitting rock and hearty balladry that had attracted so many fans to the band.
The band's decision to sue Ticketmaster also blunted Pearl Jam's momentum, despite the reams of publicity it generated. The band argued that the company held a monopoly and charged unfairly inflated services charges for tickets.
Ticketmaster was eventually cleared of monopolistic practices, and Pearl Jam could only play scattered shows in the United States during the mid-1990s because of the limited number of non-Ticketmaster venues.
Whatever the factors, they took a toll on the more recent CDs. Yield (1998), Binaural (2000) and Riot Act (2000), sold about one million copies each.
The lead single from the new record, "World Wide Suicide," though, has rocketed up the charts, topping Billboard magazine's modern rock chart and reaching number two on mainstream rock. Meanwhile, the CD itself debuted at number two on Billboard's album chart with 279,000 in first-week sales.
The CD has also drawn rave reviews, with many critics writing that the hard-rocking CD delivers the kind of energy and passion the band exhibited on its first three records.
"It does hearken back to, I believe, the Vs. era, to the energy of the time," McCready says, but there's a difference. "Back then, we were just 25, 26, and we were just kind of blown away by the attention and the fact that the thing sold a million records in a week or whatever it was, and the chaos and the fun and all the stuff that was happening then was all brand-new. The music of this record, I believe, captures the energy of that time, but with more confidence."
McCready sees the strong initial response to the Pearl Jam CD as having to do with the climate of today's world, which the band reflects in "World Wide Suicide" (a song that forcefully examines the futility of war) and "Unemployable"(lamenting the dead-end future of an unemployed older worker).
"I think it's the times we're living in," he says. "We're reacting to how that is, and that comes out musically in the intensity. I believe that having a new record label [J Records] that's excited about it, the promotional side makes people get to hear it on the radio or get to see us on TV, and I also feel that we worked really hard on it, for about a year and a half ...We really wanted to make this as powerful as possible. So we put all of our positive and spiritual energy into that record, and people are receptive to that."
Pearl Jam at the Gorge on Saturday (sold out) and Sunday, July 22-23, at 7 pm. Tickets: $49-$58. Visit www.ticketmaster.com or at the Fred Meyer at South Thor or at Wandermere.